FRONT-PORCH GOSPEL: Lost in Yellowstone (chapter 18)
“The Agnostic: In Search of a Rose (Part 1)”
What you are about to read is one of the very special accounts for me. Every time we have had the opportunity to tell this story since this landmark day, July 15, 2021, I cannot help but feel, as Robert Frost wrote, that I will long be telling of this ‘with a sigh.’
You will not feel, perhaps, the pauses that come at the retelling of these moments, but they are there, nonetheless. Some stories cannot be told without some deep breaths and careful pauses.
So, we begin now, to tell the story of my friend – In search of a Rose.
Among many powerful events of this climatic day, this Thursday is marked by the numerous people we would meet on the trail, each one coming with their own compelling story.
After Todd and I had separated in the early morning hours, he moved on at a rapid pace. He later calculated that he had advanced perhaps as many as three miles ahead of me. It is still amazing to think of the strength he continued to have, even now on his fifth hard day of toil.
Thursday was a long, hot day of hiking for us both. Even at his quick pace, he did not reach the campsite until early evening. I don’t know how many miles exactly Todd could cover hiking at his quick pace for nine hours, but I expect it was well over ten miles. Whatever the number was, I would hike the same number, minus one mile. You’ll learn about that one mile a little later.
It was early afternoon when I ascended the mountainside and came to a landing at the top, a lookout over the beautiful wilderness below us. I am thankful that I was able to pause and record with the pen some of these key moments. (It’s funny that I think I had the only pen in the entire quartet who set out on this trip. It came in handy more than once.)
It was there that I wrote the note we shared in the previous chapter. I do not know how long I rested at that picturesque spot, but I had been there a while when I had my first encounter of the day. A hiker from Alaska by the name of Moffit came up the trail to the place I was. I didn't hear him coming at first, because you could not see down the sloped trail, and he shocked me when he slipped up on me. It was the first person I had seen on the trail in forty-eight hours. My first thought was that it was a bear coming up the trail. Those thoughts never get far from your mind, as you see.
Mr. Moffitt proved to be quite a gentleman. (Out of respect, I’ll only use his last name here.) He paused from his own journey for half an hour or more to assist me and direct me on. I am sure that whenever one of these experienced hikers ran across me sitting against a rock or tree or even hiking slowly down the trail that they could tell things didn’t look quite right. It’s hard to hide that level of fatigue, I know.
During our lengthy visit, Mr. Moffitt drew a map to show me the path I would need to take to get to the Thoroughfare. After he drew it, I jotted down every landmark on the map and as many details as I could, because I might have to follow that map until its end. There was no guarantee that Todd and I would find each other again.
The map directed me to continue hiking east for two-and-one-half miles until I would cross over Snake River. Not far past the river, I would turn back north and go four miles to reach Surprise Creek Camp. I remembered that this is the camp to which the Hogans directed us on Tuesday evening. I still am not sure what happened to the trail that day.
I knew that Todd likely would not have stopped there, because we had hoped to get further than that on this Thursday. The camp was some distance east of the trail; and when I came to that point later in the day, I never saw any indication of the camp. Perhaps I missed a sign, but I saw no sign of any kind the entire day – for that matter, we had not seen a sign since Monday.
After passing Surprise Creek Camp, though, I would need to turn back to the West and go three miles until I reached Beaver Creek, these landmarks being part the Heart Lake Trail we were scheduled to travel from the beginning. Mr. Moffitt pointed out that once I came to Beaver Creek, it would be eight more miles to the entrance of the Yellowstone Thoroughfare.
As rough as the map looked – written on the backside of an unopened jumbo band-aid – it actually gave me the best directions I had seen the entire trip. Over the last two days I had tried to be more cognizant of our navigation so I could not only help Todd with directions as needed but – perhaps more importantly – I could use the sun to guide me north and west in the event I got lost. As this Thursday’s hike continued, I could see that getting lost again was a very real possibility. We were not nearly out of the woods yet.
Mr. Moffitt and I talked along for quite a while. He told me he had retired some years ago from doing biological work. He had a Ph.D in biology and worked many years in Alaska. He wasn’t married but had two sisters who worried themselves to death over him.
“They think I’m crazy,” he said, and we both laughed. He presently was several weeks into a hike of the Great Continental Divide, so they had reasons to be a bit concerned, I guess.
I told him I had some folks back home who think I’m a little crazy, too, especially at the moment.